It was "undeniably acknowledged" that the State had failed murder victim Seamus Ludlow and his family in and around the Garda investigation of his murder, a High Court judge has said.
For reasons including the public interest involved, Ms Justice Mary Faherty ruled on Thursday the State should pay half the legal costs of the family's unsuccessful action aimed at having the State establish two commissions of inquiry into the Garda investigation.
She granted the State’s application for a stay on the costs order to allow it consider whether to appeal that.
The State previously apologised to the family over the failures of the Garda investigation into what it described as the “callous sectarian murder” of Mr Ludlow in 1976.
Last month, Ms Justice Faherty dismissed the action by Thomas Fox, a nephew of Mr Ludlow, which was supported by other family members, against the Minister for Justice and the State.
Commissions of inquiry
Mr Fox sought to have the State establish two commissions of inquiry, as recommended by a 2006 Oireachtas Joint Committee, based on a report of retired High Court judge Henry Barron into the murder of Mr Ludlow. A Co Louth forestry worker who had no paramilitary connections, Mr Ludlow (47) was shot after leaving a bar in Dundalk and his body was found on May 2nd, 1976 in a lane near his home.
No-one has ever been charged in connection with the murder and the family say gardaí failed to pursue an important line of inquiry — that Mr Ludlow was an innocent victim of either loyalist or British forces who mistook him for a senior member of the IRA.
Despite the RUC having identified suspects north of the border, the Garda investigation was suspended after three weeks without explanation and on the basis of what a garda told the family were “orders from Dublin”, the family claimed. The Oireachtas Committee had said it could not resolve why gardaí did not follow up the RUC information but believed it was because of a direction by a former senior garda. The family argued commissions of inquiry could address such issues.
The State maintained the murder investigation remains open and commissions of inquiry could not progress that. It said the Barron report of 2006 named four persons as the suspected perpetrators, but the DPPs on both sides of the border recommended no prosecutions be brought.
Minister for Justice decision not ‘irrational’
Ms Justice Faherty found the courts cannot force the executive to set up any kind of inquiry and the refusal to set up the commissions was open to the Minister for Justice to make and was not “irrational”.
After her judgment, lawyers for Mr Fox applied to have the State pay all, or some, of his costs. The State did not seek costs against Mr Fox and argued the appropriate order was each side pay their own.
In her reserved costs ruling on Thursday, Ms Justice Faherty said, while she had found against the family, what they had sought had been recommended in a report of a Joint Committee of the Oireachtas and it was also “undeniably acknowledged” the State had failed Mr Ludlow and his family in and around the conduct of the murder investigation.
While the case raised no new legal issues and was decided on established legal principles, it went beyond the family’s private interest and there was a considerable public interest involved, she said. The private interest of Mr Fox and the family was for intent and purposes mirrored in various structures put in place by the State in the public interest to ascertain why certain organs of the State, notably the Garda Síochána, failed to properly investigate the murder.
Giving due weight to that and all relevant considerations, including the State having successfully defended the case, the appropriate order was to award Mr Fox half his costs.